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Mystery Photo

What in the world is it?

Mystery Photo

Don’t peek at the answer until you’ve given this a good try! Then, scroll down a bit and the truth will be revealed to you.

(Image Credit: NASA; ESA; Hans Van Winckel (Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium); and Martin Cohen (University of California, Berkeley))

A Digital Spider in a rectangular web? A photo of a child’s Etch-a-Sketch®? Well, this image, taken by the Hubble Space Telescope, is called the "Stairway to Heaven." It shows a ladder-like structure surrounding a dying star. Cataloged as HD 44179, this nebula is more commonly called the "Red Rectangle" because of its unique shape and color as seen with ground-based telescopes.

Note that two bright diagonals intersect the rectangular shape; the diagonals appear connected by straight lines parallel to the short side of the rectangle. Astronomers Dr. Raghvendra Sahai of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CA, and Dr. Carmen Sanchez Contreras of the California Institute of Technology, also in Pasadena, believe that very fast jet-like outflows of radiation (expanding with a speed of about 65 kilometers per second [40 miles per second]) carve out these odd shapes. The jets are thought to operate for a very short period of time — only a few hundred or so years. These jets might be very young — its innermost parts, Sahai says, are only a few years old, "so we will be able to directly observe if, and how, [the nebula] changes with time."

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